Among mental disorders, which according to last month’s issue of JAMA Psychiatry can double people’s mortality risks, depression is one of the most frequent and most overlooked. However, a new study organized by doctors from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City proved that treating depression can save lives not only in terms of reducing suicidal behavior, but also in terms of improving patients’ physical condition. Of the 26,000 patients that received treatment from this medical center in 3 years, 5,311 were included in the study. They were patients with moderate or severe depression, while the remaining 21,517 (around 80% of cases) were diagnosed with mild depression or no depression (following a 9-question depression test).
The connection between stroke-preventive efficiency and treatment with antidepressants was stronger in patients with more severe cases of depression. Usually, cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins are used alongside antidepressants to lower cardiovascular risks, but this research has surprisingly shown that antidepressants alone were a better cure than both statins alone and statins combined with antidepressants. Doctor Heidi May, PhD, lead author of the study, said that the specialists had expected a cumulative effect (antidepressants plus statins were thought to work better), and found, however, that antidepressants were making a major difference. The research was focused on monitoring three risk-factors: death rates, coronary artery disease and stroke. The frequency of these three events was compared between equally depressed patients, part of whom took only antidepressants, while the other part took neither antidepressants nor statins.
To explain the improvement that antidepressants brought to the patients’ cardiovascular health, Dr. Heidi May invoked the behavioral changes triggered by antidepressants, not only affecting their mood in a positive way, but also their daily routines and consequently the activity of their cardiovascular systems. According to this specialist, assessing depression in patients early on is very important, especially now that we know it has physical consequences.
In a 2012 statistical study, published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, major depressive disorder was revealed to correlate with 17% of cardiovascular cases and 23% of cerebrovascular cases. Dr. May’s analysis took risk factors like smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure into account, but did not discriminate between patients who took counseling or started an exercise routine and patients who didn’t. The study will be presented at the 64th annual scientific session of the American College of Cardiology in San Diego, on the 15th of March.
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